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|The Scream of Steel (standard:drama, 1001 words)|
|Author: GXD||Added: Dec 27 2009||Views/Reads: 1850/1075||Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)|
|Once upon a time, when American steel mills dominated world industry, this is what it felt like inside the rolling mill. If you've never heard the scream of steel, now is your chance.|
The Scream of Steel Big Joe slammed his lever down and the mill began to roll. First came the whining growl of the pump motors, followed by the splashing of high-pressure water jets drenching the roll stands. Each monster stand towered two stories high, their glossy black finish pitted like meteors. The massive steel frames gripped a pair of rolls in Bakelite bearings, and when those rolls squeezed an ingot, steel squirted like toothpaste from between their teeth. As the mill-driving engines started up, our bellies rumbled to their thunderous echo. My shoe soles vibrated with the trembling wooden floor as power from the iron dinosaur surged into the earth through its yard-thick concrete foundation. Even so, another compelling pulse prevailed -- inaudible and softly felt, it commanded me to turn and face the roaring mill, the living mill hungry for its steel. A shrill rising whistle told me that Mac, in the crane cab, was on his way to pull the first hot billet from the oven's soaking pit. Even as the din of the mill built up -- a rhythmic, yet melodious cacophony -- it became a kind of not-noise, industrial "musique concret", the chanting of cruel sirens singing among hazardous rocks. This symphony of sound spoke of power unleashed to squeeze beads of iron sweat from six tons of white-hot steel. And our team became part of the machine, sharing its power, sharing its sweat. Andy was head roller today. When he bellowed "Roll!", Big Joe began moving up the line, sledging control rods to the "on" position with his mallets. Mac rolled his his bridge crane into position while I reached for my tongs and hopped onto the push-out bed. When that door opened, I would be ready, all swaddled in asbestos clothing and clumsy gloves with leather shin guards over my hobbed boots and a hooded cape to cover my neck. I lowered my sun shield to gaze at the oven door and stood by, waiting for Mac to clamp the jaws of his hoist onto the radiant billet. Andy had been rolling steel for half a century. Coarse creases deepened his eye sockets as he squinted up the line to be sure that each of the nine rolling stands was behaving the way it should. He wore a striped engineer's cap and a sweat-stained red bandanna. Shafts of yellow sunlight glared through the open roof ports, lighting up his ruddy face. When he twisted his bull neck, a network of veins bulged up. His roar carried over the roar of the mill, "Roll No. One!". I pedaled my switch. The thick refractory oven door began inching slowly upward, squealing and rumbling. As it rose, an undercurrent of sub-sonic tones billowed out of the flame ports. Its dry roller bearings screeched and squealed against their rusty guides. Crumbs of brittle mortar dribbled from the refractory walls. Twinges of orange flame flickered out of that hellish maw. Blasts of hot wind enveloped me, screaming of anguished steel. Hot pink ingots of steel were stacked inside, glowing from wall to wall, from floor to roof, from back to front, inside that huge womb, waiting to be born. These embryos would become, in time, steel beams for towering buildings, truck fenders and running boards, stainless steel sinks and cutlery, thumbtacks and paper clips. Behind the furnace, a powered ram ejected the first white-hot six-ton billet from its nest into a cruel, chill world. Mac dragged it into the cobbing rolls. Their giant iron teeth mauled and masticated deep corrugations into the ingot's oxide skin, splitting off slate-colored flakes of scale. These rolls drove the billet onward into the next pass. That was when the steel began to scream. My ears recoiled as the guide rolls squealed like an army of constipated pigs. Chips of scale ricocheted off my mask. The din escalated as the newborn metal billet came alive in a shower of water jets. Clouds of blood-red steam enveloped the rolling stand and billowed upward volcanically to escape through roof vents. Each protesting screech echoed from the mill's grimy walls. The stench of burning sulfur filled my nostrils and set my teeth on edge. If you have never heard the scream of steel, don't long for it. There is another mother in my blood, where kindred iron atoms of red corpuscles in my arteries resonate, weeping with each scream, echoing the murder cry of steel chilled by steam and squeezed inexorably Click here to read the rest of this story (26 more lines)
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